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An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD Post-European-Council Statement, Dáil Éireann, Tuesday 2 May 2017


A Cheann Comhairle,
I am pleased to address the House today following the meeting of the European Council last Saturday, 29 April.
This was the first meeting since Prime Minister May formally notified the European Union of its intention to leave, thereby triggering Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union; and it was therefore a meeting of the 27 remaining Member States.
We adopted the EU negotiating guidelines, and had a broad-ranging discussion about the process ahead. Presidents Tusk and Junker also outlined the process and timelines around the relocation of the two EU agencies currently located in the UK.
I am very pleased with the outcome of the meeting, including the overall approach to the negotiations, and the acknowledgement of the need to address Ireland's unique concerns, as set out in the guidelines, as well as the declaration which provides reassurance around the provision on unity in the Good Friday Agreement.
A Cheann Comhairle,
The Government has been consistent and forthright in its view that the UK’s departure from the Union would have significant economic, political and social implications for Ireland.
For over two years, we have been analysing the issues and engaging with sectors across the island of Ireland, including through the All Island Dialogue, to identify our main areas of concern, and to develop our priorities. These are to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the Peace Process, including by maintaining an open border; to retain the Common Travel Area; to minimise the impact on our economy; and to work for a positive future for the European Union.
We have been extremely active at political and official level in engaging with our EU partners and the EU institutions. This has involved highlighting and explaining the significant implications for Ireland arising from Brexit and the need to take account of our particular concerns in the negotiations. Since the UK referendum last June, we have had over 400 engagements on Brexit with our EU partners.
Over the past 10 months, as Taoiseach, I have had bilateral meetings with my counterparts in Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, Cyprus, Malta, Croatia, Poland, Denmark and the Netherlands, and with the Presidents of the European Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission, and the Chief Brexit Negotiator, Michel Barnier - whom I will meet again in Dublin next week. I also of course have spoken informally with all my EU counterparts in the margins of the European Council. Most recently, at the beginning of April, I had a second bilateral meeting with Chancellor Merkel in Berlin, and just two weeks ago I travelled to The Hague to meet both my Dutch and Danish counterparts.
In all these meetings, I explained the background and context of the Northern Ireland Peace Process and emphasised the need to avoid the reimposition of a hard border on the island of Ireland. As I have been saying for some time now, this is a political challenge and we will have to be flexible and imaginative in our efforts to find solutions.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Minister for European Affairs, have both also had extensive programmes of engagement; while other Ministers have been engaging with their EU counterparts. We have also been meeting regularly with our British friends within the structures of the Good Friday Agreement and the mechanisms flowing from the 2012 Joint Statement - while fully respecting the principle agreed with our EU partners of 'No Negotiation without Notification.'
In addition to this, there has been deep engagement at senior official level, including through our Permanent Representation in Brussels and our network of Embassies overseas. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the efforts and personal commitment of everyone involved who has worked so hard to achieve positive outcomes for our country.
It was by no means a given that Ireland’s position would be seen as a priority for the negotiations but, thanks to our strategic, persistent and patient work, and the understanding and support of our European partners, I am pleased that Ireland’s specific concerns have been fully acknowledged in the guidelines: supporting and protecting the achievements, benefits and commitments of the Peace Process; avoiding a hard border; and protecting the Common Travel Area will now be addressed as priorities in the exit negotiations.
I would recall that the European Parliament adopted a Resolution on 5 April which also included strong references to our specific concerns.
And Prime Minister May's letter on 29 March triggering Article 50, and her statement to the House of Commons the same day, confirmed the British Government’s objective of avoiding a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland and its commitment to maintaining the Common Travel Area.
So clearly, our extensive campaign of strategic outreach at political, diplomatic and official level over recent months has been effective in ensuring that our unique circumstances and particular concerns are understood and acknowledged.
A Cheann Comhairle,
The extensive preparation by Member States and the EU Institutions in advance of the European Council meant that the Guidelines were agreed on Saturday without any major points of difference. In addition to the language reflecting our unique concerns, which provides an excellent basis on which to start the negotiations, we are also pleased with the tone of the text: this is open and constructive, while nevertheless clearly and firmly outlining the EU’s objectives and principles.
The approach to the question of the UK’s financial liabilities is also welcome: this is of course a sensitive issue but it must be resolved in light of British commitments made as a member of the EU. It is sensible therefore, as agreed on Saturday, to focus first on the principles and methodology before considering the numbers or the structure of payments involved.
The text of the guidelines also highlights the importance of getting clarity in relation to EU citizens' rights. This is a key issue across Member States, and I welcome the focus, which will help to provide certainty for people and for families.
Very importantly from our perspective, the guidelines acknowledge the need for transitional arrangements, which will need to preserve the EU’s legal order; and they underscore the need for a dispute resolution mechanism.
As Ireland stands to be more affected than any other Member State by the UK's departure, it is crucial from our perspective that work begins as soon as possible on scoping out the future EU-UK relationship. We are pleased therefore that the guidelines acknowledge that the future relationship can be discussed once the European Council agrees that 'sufficient progress' has been made on the exit issues.
This means that the European Council - the Heads of State and Government of the 27 Member States - will assess progress in the first phase of the negotiations: assuming these are approached in good faith and sufficient progress has been made on the issues, it can agree to move onto the second phase, including consideration of the shape of the future relationship.
Again in line with Ireland's interests, the language in the guidelines about the future relationship is generous. It indicates that the EU wants to have an ambitious agreement, not just in economic terms but also in areas such as security. It is very much our objective to have a close and positive relationship with the U.K. and we will continue to work with partners to achieve such an outcome.
So I welcome the guidelines from a substantive perspective. I appreciate the thorough preparatory work carried out by the European Council team, the Commission Taskforce and all our EU partners, whose willingness to listen to us and to acknowledge our unique concerns has brought us to this point. The outcome is an endorsement of the Government’s approach and a clear recognition of the specific challenges we face.
A Cheann Comhairle,
The Government has robustly defended the Good Friday Agreement throughout the process so far, making clear to all concerned that, as a legally-binding, international Treaty, registered with the UN, it provides a unique political and constitutional framework on the island of Ireland.
We considered it important to provide reassurance that Brexit does not undermine any provision of the Good Friday Agreement and that, if the provision on unity by peaceful and democratic means is invoked at some time in the future, EU membership is assured.
This is not about triggering any mechanism. I have been consistent in my view that the conditions for a referendum do not currently exist. But the declaration we agreed on Saturday - which will be recorded in the minutes of the European Council - was hugely important in order to dispel any doubt or uncertainty on that point.
A Cheann Comhairle,
As I noted, President Tusk and President Juncker also informed the European Council about the timing and process involved in relocating the two EU agencies currently situated in the UK - the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency. Ireland has put itself forward as a candidate to host both agencies and Ministers Noonan and Harris, and their Departments, have been active in making our case and seeking support for these bids. There is of course intense competition, with almost all Member States bidding to host one or both of the agencies, but we are continuing with our efforts. The final decision will be taken by the European Council, probably by the end of this year.
With the EU guidelines now adopted, including the language about our unique concerns, the government is publishing today our position paper for the negotiations ahead. This reflects the findings of the government's extensive preparatory work and consultations on the island of Ireland and at EU level, and outlines the positions and priorities that will underpin our engagement in the Brexit process as it unfolds over the next two years.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will deliver a statement at the end of this session and will speak further about the position paper at that time.
There is much work to be done. With the EU guidelines agreed, the Commission will adopt tomorrow its draft of the more detailed negotiating directives. These will then be considered at official and Ministerial level, before coming to the General Affairs Council for agreement on 22 May.
From Ireland's perspective, we are committed to playing a strong role as a member of the EU27. We will continue to engage to ensure that our concerns and priorities are reflected in the EU negotiating position as it evolves, and that we work towards a strong and constructive future relationship with the UK.
And we will also focus on domestic policy to reinforce the competitiveness of the Irish economy, to protect it from the full impacts of Brexit, and to pursue all possible opportunities that might arise.
I can assure you that we are well prepared and that we will continue to work to protect and promote Ireland’s interests.
I look forward to keeping the House fully informed of developments in relation to Brexit and to hearing now statements from Deputies.
Thank you.